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You know that getting enough fiber in your diet goes a long way to keeping your bowels regular and preventing constipation. But it does so much more to keep you disease-free.
Dietary fiber binds with cholesterol, lowers blood sugar and speeds the removal of toxic waste from our bodies. Having enough fiber in your diet helps control inflammation, thus reducing the risk of high blood sugar, diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, and some cancers.
And now, evidence is growing that getting enough fiber in your diet can also have positive effects on your mental health, particularly if you’re a woman who has not yet been through menopause.
The role of inflammation in behavior and emotion
We already know that inflammation can affect our behavior and decision-making. It’s been found that people with higher cytokine levels were associated with more impulsive behavior.
Previous studies have shown that inflammation and depression are connected. In one recent study, an increase in the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 in the cerebrospinal fluid of men produced depressive symptoms.
Now, we’re finding out how this plays out for women at different stages in the menopausal cycle.
Fiber helps prevent depression in pre-menopause
A new study published in the journal Menopause suggests that fiber intake may be linked with a reduced risk of depression, especially in pre-menopausal women.
Researchers looked at more than 5800 women to try and find out whether menopausal status played a role in how well fiber intake prevented depression.
What they found was that, for women who had not yet reached menopause, the more fiber they ate, the less their risk of depression. This was not true in post-menopausal women.
Estrogen seems to be the differentiating factor.
Estrogen affects the balance of gut microorganisms, and since estrogen levels drop after menopause, the gut-brain interactions that affect neurotransmission, mood and emotion do not run as smoothly.
The best way to increase your fiber intake
The amount of dietary fiber you need each day depends to some extent on the number of calories you eat. As a rule of thumb, every 1000 calories should include 14 grams of fiber. For example, a 2500 calorie diet should include 35 grams of fiber.
If your diet has been low on fiber, it’s best not to ramp it up too quickly. Suddenly increasing your fiber intake can cause abdominal pain and even intestinal blockage. It’s best to do it gradually and to drink plenty of water to help your bowels adjust.
Another way to avoid discomfort when increasing your fiber is to get both kinds of fiber. Yes, there are two:
Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like substance as it moves through your gastrointestinal tract. This stimulates the bowels to hold on to water, bulking up the stool. It’s found in foods such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils), oats, and apples.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, which helps push material along, increase stool bulk, and reduce the risk for hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. It’s found in foods such as whole grains and most vegetables.
As with so many nutrients, the best and easiest way to increase your daily fiber intake is to make it part of your diet. Adding nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruit — like berries, pears and mango — and cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, can get you on the right road.
Also, be aware that fiber supplements, such as Metamucil, can interfere with the absorption of some medications, including warfarin and carbamazepine. And, if you are diabetic, fiber supplements may make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar.
Remember, you’re building an ecosystem in your gut, and that will take time. Small, consistent dietary changes are the key.
New study suggests higher daily dietary fiber intake is linked to lower risk for depression — Integrative Practitioner
Link Between Dietary Fiber and Depression Partially Explained by Gut-Brain Interactions — The North American Menopause Society
Dietary fiber and its associations with depression and inflammation — Nutrition Reviews
Of Microbes and Mental Health: Eating for Mental Wellness — American Society for Microbiology